Site created 12/15/97.
reviews added: 2/5/01
Fanboy reviews MGM's Soul Cinema DVDs
reviews by Todd Doogan
of The Digital Bits
(a.k.a. DVD Fanboy)
Comes to Harlem
1970 (2000) - United Artists (MGM)
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/D+
Specs and Features:
96 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered,
Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film themed menu
screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0
mono), subtitles: Spanish and French, Closed Captioned
"Is that Black
enough for you?"
Famed writer Chester Himes was sentenced to prison, at the age of
19, for 25 years (the charge: armed robbery - time served: 8 years).
It was in prison where Himes first started writing. He began writing
magazine and newspaper articles, then moved on to novels in 1945. By
1953, Himes grew tired of the racial climate and his inability to
garner great success with American audiences, and landed in France.
It was while living in France as an ex-patriot that Chester Himes
began writing a series of hard-boiled crime novels (in French) about
his two trademark Harlem detectives, Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave
Digger Jones. They started their adventures in For
Love of Imabelle (a.k.a. A
Rage in Harlem - 1957), and moved on to The
Real Cool Killers (1959), The
Crazy Kill (1959), The Big
Gold Dream (1960), All Shot Up
(1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem
(1965), The Heat's On (1966 -
which was made into the film Come Back
Charleston Blue, starring the cast of this film) and Blind
Man with a Pistol (1969). The characters ended in the
posthumously released and uncompleted novel Plan
B (1983). Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were a
couple of mean and nasty guys, that read incredibly likable,
probably because we never had to see them in person.
Cotton Comes to Harlem focuses
on the charismatic ex-con Reverend Deke O'Malley (Calvin Lockhart),
who is bilking the neighborhood citizens of their hard earned cash.
The con is disguised as a planned cruise back to Africa for anyone
willing to drop a $100 down payment for the trip. Next thing you
know, the DA's office is coming in grabbing Deke to take him
Downtown for questioning. Then, a gang of machine gun-toting thugs
storms the party, taking every last cent of the $87,000 collected
for the cruise. In come Coffin Ed and Grave Digger to the rescue,
arriving on scene just in time to chase down the getaway meat
truck... only to watch it get away when they crash their car into a
watermelon cart. But something ain't right. In fact, something
stinks... and our two intrepid detectives smell a fix. Ed and Grave
Digger are going to find out it is and when they do, Hell's coming
Cotton Comes to Harlem is a
schizo-comedy. One moment you're laughing and then, all of a sudden,
POW! Something happens to offset the comedy for about 10 minutes
until you start laughing again. Some of what happens is pretty
scary, and some of it will cause you to think, but all of it makes
for a pretty darn good film, that's actually aged very well. But
Cotton's a little more deep
than all of that. Because it's a Himes story, it's also a serious
meditation on race relations, social anxieties and what it means to
be the law on both sides of the fence. The underlying question is "What
is it like being black?" And the answers are never easily
digested. Sure, the times change, but the world of this film (and
the underlying novel are) is as universal today as it was in 1965.
Cotton's a good film and worth
I don't know a whole lot about the technical production of this
film, but it's presented here on DVD in full frame. The picture
seems free of panning and scanning, so 1.33:1 just may be the
correct aspect ratio. The print looks okay. There's a few source
defects that pop up, but the grain is low, colors are natural and
line detail is nice. This is a great transfer for a film from 1970.
The sound is a two-channel mono track, with no hissing or pops.
You'll find the trailer on this disc, but nothing else in terms of
extras. Aside from not being a special edition, I think MGM took
good care of Cotton Comes to Harlem.
Cotton Comes to Harlem
1973 (2000) - American International Pictures (MGM)
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features:
94 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary
with director Larry Cohen, theatrical trailer, film themed menu
screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English and Spanish
(DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: Spanish and French, Closed Captioned
"Paid the cost to
be the boss... Look at me? Know what you see? See a bad mother...
Loosely based on the legend of Harlem gangster Nicky Barnes (from
back in the day of real gangsters), Larry Cohen brings Nicky into
70s Harlem, renames him and cuts him loose on society.
Black Caesar follows young
Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson), from eager mob-friendly shoeshine boy
to ruthless capo of the underworld. His methods are ruthless, his
mind twisted and his sex is dirty. But when it comes to the
neighborhood, he's Robin Hood in fur and a wide brimmed hat. He
gives back to the community and, even if his methods are
questionable, he still has his heart in the right place. And if you
screw with him... your heart will be in his hand.
Gibbs' main push for success comes from his animosity towards a
beat cop who crippled him as a child. McKinney, the beat cop, grows
into an old corrupt precinct chief on his way to commissioner, who
Gibbs' plays like a fiddle at first. But the more power and control
he gets, the more security he looses. Will Gibbs end up like Cagney
in White Heat or will he skate
away with his wits and ass fully intact?
This is one of the most celebrated films in the blaxpoitation
genre, and it deserves all the praise you can heap on it. This is an
epic in every way. We get the beginning, middle and end of a crime
lord's rise and fall. And boy, does this guy fall. He does so much
power playing that by the time he becomes the godfather of crime in
Harlem, all of his partners either hate him or are dead. Of course,
just when you start to think you don't need any friends... that's
when you need them the most. There's also a really beautiful level
of psychology going on with Gibbs in this film. You really get to
know his struggle and see why he does the things he does. It's a
really intricate character study that entertains like a mo-fo.
Black Caesar is a good film
compared to any (regardless of genre), and it just happens to be a
shining gem in MGMs Soul Cinema series.
The DVD doesn't shine quite as brightly, but still has a little bit
of luster. The anamorphic picture is nice in spots, but shows a bit
of wear in others. There's patches of excessive grain, color loss
and source damage, but it looks good for the most part. There's
little artifacting and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. It
looks pretty good for a 1973 film, really. The sound is a 2.0 mono
track, that only really comes alive with the music (which rocks - a
James Brown score and one of his best soundtrack contributions
ever). Dialogue is clear - there's no distortion to be heard.
Also included on this DVD is the trailer and, joy of joys, a
commentary track with writer, director and produced Larry Cohen.
Cohen is a true genre pioneer. He's a bit off on this track, but he
does provide some interesting insights into the origin of the film,
working for AIP and how the film came together. It's not a
commentary I'd say you MUST hear, but it's definitely worth a
Black Caesar is a really good
film. If you haven't seen it, you really are missing out on one of
the better films of this genre. Do yourself a favor and check it out
Gonna Git You Sucka
1988 (2000) - United Artist (MGM)
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features:
89 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided,
single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film
themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English
(DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish and French, Closed Captioned
"Fluff up them
This is probably one of the greatest genre spoofs ever made - right
up there with Airplane. Keenan
Ivory Wayans plays Jack Spade, a man just out of the Army who's come
home to find that his brother Junebug has been murdered (made to
look like an apparent OG... or "over gold") by the man he
worked for, Mr. Big. Recruiting the help of his hero, John Slade,
and his team of blaxpoitation refugees (Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown,
Antonio Fargas and Steve James), Jack and company go into the
underworld to shake things up. All the while, they're dodging
hilarious sight gags, witty genre in-jokes and inner-city commentary
with the greatest of ease.
For the fans of Scary Movie,
this is a much better film all the way around. The jokes are
non-stop and every one of them work. Maybe it helps to be familiar
with the genre, but for the most part you'll get it. The acting is
also top notch, with cameos by Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, Eve Plumb,
Clarence Williams III and David Alan Grier. Also, look for
Jurassic Park's Ariana
Richards in an inspired bit.
On DVD, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka
isn't anamorphic and should have been. The picture is rough in
spots, but is still very watchable. There's also some heavy grain
and damage to the print. The sound is a simple stereo track, without
much play (it sounds almost mono). Also included is a funny trailer.
Of all these Soul Cinema films, I'm
Gonna Git You Sucka is the newest and would have
benefited the most from better treatment. This disc should also have
been a special edition. The fact that it isn't is a real shame.
Still, it's definitely a must see. Don't miss at least renting this
I'm Gonna Git You Sucka